► 2020's updated Jag F-Type
► Driven in P300 and R spec
► Our full coupe road test
The ‘new’ F-Type is of course nothing of the sort, being instead a mid-life refresh of the two-seater that’s been with us since 2012. Design director Julian Thompson, previously wingman to the original F-Type’s designer, Ian Callum, has evolved the car’s classical good looks: same fabulous proportions, new maturity to the faintly I-Pace-esque face.
Inside, the cockpit gets a 12.3-inch digital driver display pinched from the I-Pace but running bespoke software and graphics. Configure it as you wish, from a giant central tacho flanked by secondary info displays through a more trad twin-dial arrangement to a full-screen map.
The big news is that the V6 is dead, its performance advantage over the turbo four insufficient to keep it alive. Instead the gap between the P300 2.0-litre four and the flagship all-wheel-drive 567bhp R is home to a new 444bhp supercharged V8 with a choice of four- or rear-wheel drive.
We’re driving the coupes that bookend the new range, the P300 and the R. P300 pricing starts at £54,060 for the coupe and £59,540 for the convertible. For reference, Alpine’s A110 costs £50,800 in Legende specification, Porsche’s Cayman T £51,145; the new V8 P450 F-Type starts at £69,990 in coupe form, the R £97,280.
Much changed on the P300?
Not much, no. For your money you get the new look, the new cabin tech (CarPlay compatibility and the new driver’s instruments) and… that’s about it. If it ain’t broke don’t fix it? Kind of, though an injection of quality into some of the cabin materials would have been nice, as would less salty pricing – it’s hard to configure a handsome P300 for much less than £60k. First Edition cars are nearly £70k.
But this is still a fabulous sports car. Impressively, the four-cylinder turbo engine is potent enough to feel entirely at home in the F-Type (itself not a particularly light car) and not like some out-of-its-depth imposter. While the top end isn’t the stuff of dreams it’s powerful enough and the engine’s flexibility is a real asset, the unit pulling with conviction from just 2000rpm.
All good news, but it’s the weight the four removes from the car’s nose relative to the V8s that really makes the difference. The P300 is far simpler than the more powerful F-Types, with passive dampers, an open mechanical differential (the V8s use e-diffs) and modest tyre sizes and anti-roll bars. But it all adds up to a deliciously accessible and rewarding driving experience. The spring and damping rates are beautifully judged: pliant enough for cobbled city streets but with real control on epic mountain roads. There’s never the sense of the car’s mass getting out of control, as can be the case with Alpine’s ultra-soft A110.
The steering is linear, nicely weighted and a handy source of information when you’re working out exactly how hard to lean on the front axle. There are driver modes, of course, but in the P300 they’re only felt in the engine and transmission – so pop it in Dynamic mode, change gears yourself (the eight-speed auto isn’t as miraculously fast and smooth as Porsche’s twin-clutcher, but neither does it ever detract from the drive) and knock the stability control right off – and revel in all that’s special about a balanced, front-engined, rear-drive sports car.
Do I look like I care about the four-cylinder? Let’s talk R
The chasm in performance – not to mention the difference in character – between the P300 and the F-Type R is far greater than the gap that exists between the Carrera and Turbo S 911, for example, and underlines just how much potential the P300 engine leaves untapped in the F-Type’s package.
The R now develops 567bhp from its supercharged V8, squirts that twist to the road via all-wheel drive and weighs the same as a P300 carrying two-and-a-half passengers. (Impossible, obviously, but you get the idea – the R’s a whopping 223kg heavier.) It’s also received a raft of detail chassis changes, from new springs and anti-roll bars to new knuckles, hubs and wheel bearings to boost toe and camber stiffness. Effectively the result of lessons learned on the F-Type SVR and the wild Project 8 all-wheel-drive super-saloon, the new R is an impressively rapid and composed GT, one that replaces the P300’s playfulness with a merciless sense of grip and composure.
On streaming wet roads the R’s sheer footprint and nicely rear-biased four-wheel drive system work wonders, as do the sharp but measured responses of the supercharged V8, which you’re soon merrily wringing out despite the weather. There’s a firm sophistication to the ride and, together with the heft and directness of the steering, a very different personality. The only incongruities are the same plastics that look cheap on the £55k four-cylinder, now that they’re in a car costing twice as much, and the odd and very artificial thwack that’s been engineered into upshifts in the Dynamic drive mode – keep it smooth, please.
Jaguar F-Type coupe: verdict
This is a very light facelift. R customers will notice a difference, should they drive new and old back to back, but P300 customers won’t, because there are no differences to feel.
But the car’s even better looking than it was before, the new driver instruments are a welcome addition (even if the different modes are a little fiddly to shift between, certainly more so than Audi’s similar Virtual Cockpit system), as is CarPlay, and the driving experience remains richly rewarding.
The four-cylinder, 2.0-litre P300 coupe was always our favourite F-Type. That remains the case. Most of its competition is smaller and mid-engined and this, together with the handsome good looks of the Jag’s front-engined silhouette, marks the F-Type out as something distinctively and attractively old school. If only the four-cylinder was a little less thirsty (expect mpg in the mid-20s in mixed use) and more keenly priced.
The R remains a devastatingly effective alternative to the 911 Turbo S, BMW 8-series or AMG GT. Dynamically compelling, its price point highlights just how little work’s gone into the facelifts material quality and cockpit – in a bad way. It all works, and the driving position is perfect, but the 992-generation 911’s interior blows it into the weeds for quality, execution and ambience.
Check out our Jaguar reviews
(Specs below are for P300)